Trend spotting: A critical business skill

Do you know what trends are impacting your customers and therefore your business? What economic, technological, regulatory or social changes are headed your way that may affect interest in your product or service either in a good way or a bad way? These are critical questions every small business owner should on top of.

Whether it’s a new technological development that poses a serious threat to your primary money-making product or a change in society that you can leverage to your advantage, such as the green movement, you need to be on top of trends. Too often, business owners, especially if they’ve been around a while and have had reasonable success, get complacent and fail to anticipate how developing trends may affect them.

Some buggy whip makers took one look at the first automobile that drove into their town and immediately started looking around for something new to manufacture. But just as many, if not more, more scoffed at the horseless carriage and went out of business as a result. From the same era is the example of the Studebaker Brothers, who happily made wagons for farmers, miners and the military beginning in 1852. But when the automobile came along, they quickly changed gears (pun intended) and were early adaptors, producing their first car, an electric model, by the way, in 1902.

Not all change is this radical, of course. Some trends don’t actually impact your product but came be used in your marketing to make your product seem more relevant to your customer’s needs or to a whole new market segment. For example, if you make a delicious soup that is low in salt, your marketing messaging should be making hay from the current push to reduce salt intake for better health. Words matter, especially the ones you choose to describe and sell your product or service. Keeping up with trends can help you make sure you are choosing the right words.

One resource I use to keep pace with social trends is futurist Faith Popcorn. Check out the TrendBank section of her Web site to learn about very broad scope trends that she believes are now taking place and will continue for the next few years. There are other sources on the Web; just do a search for “trend spotters” or similar words.

Don’t limit yourself to reading only about trends in your particular industry. Often times you can leverage trends from outside your field for ideas that can help you make your product or service better and more relevant to what people currently want.

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